A coat of arms or crest can have many different images on them. Some may be inanimate objects such as wheels, crowns or shells. Others are animals or birds. These animals and birds can be either real or mythological. Each has its own meaning and this can vary depending on whether the animal or bird is standing, lying down or rearing up.
The meanings can also change depending on the country where the family lived when the coat of arms was issued. For example, a lion generally signified fierce courage. In Ireland, however, it tended to represent the season that came just before summer arrived. It tended to represent someone who was a great warrior or a clan chief.
Animals could be real or mythological
Animals that appeared on a coat of arms could be real or mythological. For example, many coats of arms feature unicorns (which signified extreme courage). Others featured wyverns (valor and protection), a sphinx (omniscience and secrecy) or a peacock (beauty, power and knowledge). There are also many coats of arms that feature real animals such as beavers, rabbits, stags and snakes.
Animals sometimes related to a family's business
Often animals, like other symbols, had to do with a company's business or the way that they made their living. A bee, for example, was often used to represent efficient industry whereas a beaver represented industry and perseverance. A boar's head was used to signify hospitality and may have appeared on the coat of arms of someone who provided lodgings.
Birds have their own meanings
Birds also had their own meanings. A cygnet (baby swan) or adult swan with a crown around its neck was used to signify dignity. Swallows were used to represent someone who was prompt and ready when doing business or who was a bearer of good news.
Animals are not restricted to the shield itself
If you look at some crests they may feature a shield with an animal or a bird on either side. These are known as supporters. Some supporters are placed there because of specific qualities or, in the case of the Australian national coat of arms they are there because they are animals native to that continent.
The position of the animal or bird can also have meaning. For example, an animal can be rearing up, facing to the left, facing to the right or are drawn to look as if it is walking or running. These actions can all affect a coat of arms' meaning.
If you want to get the full meaning of your family's coat of arms it can be well worth the time and money to deal with a reputable company. They will look through your family's history and find the one that your ancestor used to represent them. You can then use the image you are given as a starting point to discovering the meaning of the different areas of your crest or coat of arms. You may be amazed at what you turn up when you start looking.
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